I’m writing this piece from my living room on a Tuesday afternoon. How am I able to do so? Shouldn’t I be at work? Not anymore. Last fall, I quit my job. I did more than that, actually. I left my career. For fourteen years, I worked in education. I had wanted to leave for many of those. After a series of disappointments, I finally found the nerve to walk away. I gave up on a sure thing. You know what? It still feels great.
At first, it didn’t. Briefly, I felt like I had failed. My departure wasn’t on the terms I had imagined. Believe me, I had fantasized at length about exiting. The sense that I had bailed at a difficult moment wore at me, but I got over it. Years of being programmed to believe quitting is shameful took some work to undo. I had some experience to help me undo it.
This wasn’t my first exercise in quitting. As I’ll explain, quitting is something of a hobby for me. I’ve embraced the joy of quitting. I must say I get a rush from it. Quitting for sport probably would be detrimental, although I’ll admit seeing the draw. Quitting at the right time can be empowering and liberating like little else. Finding that right time and then acting is tricky.
My hobby isn’t popular. Our society damns most quitters. Those who quit vices are applauded, but those who quit occupations or projects are scorned. We’re inundated with rhetoric and imagery about determination and perseverance from childhood. Messages about never giving up and always pressing on dominate advertisements, school assemblies, and business seminars. The intent is to inspire. The messages themselves resonate. They at least sell sneakers. No one wants to be a quitter.
These messages generally aren’t bad for us. An opposite sentiment wouldn’t be helpful and might undermine progress. What if everyone quit everything? I’m not suggesting this. Determination has merit. Nothing would get done without it. What is problematic is most of us aren’t doing anything that matters in any meaningful way to anyone.
We occupy ourselves for money or for some other kind of gratification. Too often we force ourselves to continue doing something meaningless or even personally detrimental with scant regard for our overall wellbeing. Other than to ourselves and maybe to a few around us, continuing usually isn’t important. We’re all replaceable.
With this in mind, quitting begins to take on a new hue. Life sometimes puts people in scenarios they can’t quit. Family obligations do this. Health or legal issues might as well. In most scenarios, we do what we do out of choice. We insist on certain kinds of jobs (assuming we can get those) because we want the influence, ego boost, or income they provide. Our pursuits are based on standards we set for ourselves. These might be performance standards. More often, they’re standards of material-saturated comfort.
Standards can become problematic when we chase them to the point of exhaustion. The danger is similar to setting up disappointment by developing unrealistically ambitious goals. What if one decides to abandon those goals? What if one lowers a self-imposed standard? After initial disappointment, life might become much easier. Certain choices—such as raising children—might inhibit such action. This decision is its own avoidable choice.
If a person’s job or career is an empty grind, quitting shouldn’t be shameful. It should be liberating. Realizing something doesn’t have to continue is beautiful. Quitting a specific job or an entire field isn’t the only way to experience this. Many of us force ourselves into elaborate pastimes or other personal pursuits that end up consuming us.
Whether we intend these as distractions or as the reason for doing everything else, they shouldn’t intrude on our sanctity and sanity. Quitting such diversions can cut out life’s clutter. Rather than thinking of this as giving up, it might represent coming to our senses.
As mentioned, I’m a veteran quitter. I quit my job. Doing so was possible because of my choices (no kids, car, or house). Although I’m currently living off my savings and depleting these as I type, I’m happy. I hadn’t been happy while working in schools. Looking back, I should’ve known this. I had walked away once before early in my career. Although I came back, my time away was valuable. During my current leave, I’m seeking that same kind of value.
Before quitting my job, I quit racing. I had competed in triathlons for many years. Racing became part of my identity. I wasn’t on track to turn pro, but I held my own. I also spent massive amounts of time, energy, and money. Eventually, it became a chore. When it did, I gave up. I still keep fit, but I don’t obsessively train. My total health is better for it. Some dedicated athletes might scoff at my willingness to quit. I’m comfortable with it.
I could go on with other examples about quitting bands or abandoning volunteer work. The essence was the same each time. Quitting felt wonderful. I could breathe easier knowing I could relax. Quitting has been reinforcing. I think it can be for others.
Ignoring the pressure to not quit isn’t easy. Making that move can feel like a mistake or a defeat. It can feel like cowardice or incompetence. It doesn’t have to be any of these. Instead, it can be a renewal. It can be the bravest possible gesture. The most regrettable aspect could be delaying the exit. We can’t get time back. We can reclaim our present and our future. In most of what we do, we don’t have to keep going if doing so isn’t worth it. We can be bold. We can quit.